Animal Modelers Attack Jane Goodall

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Speaking of research, a pro-animal modeling organization, posted an essay on September 20, 2017 titled: “The Problem With Jane Goodall’s ‘Expert’ Opinion.” As the essay was critical of Jane Goodall and me, I will comment on the essay which is reproduced and indented below (or in quotes).

"On September 7, 2017, Dr. Jane Goodall wrote a scathing letter to Dr. Scott Gottlieb, Commissioner of the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) denouncing what she called the “cruel and unnecessary nicotine addiction experiments on monkeys” occurring there. The letter, which relies on the repeated use of opinion versus fact-based arguments by Goodall, is not just problematic, it’s downright dangerous." 

Speaking of research then proceeds to write their entire essay using opinions.

"This is not Goodall’s first time lending her name to various efforts by animal rights activists opposed to federally-supported biomedical and behavioral research, despite her lack of expertise or relevant credentials."

This is an excellent time to examine what credentials are needed in order to criticize what specific scientists do. Jane Goodall is a world-renowned expert on nonhuman primates and has spent decades studying chimpanzees in the wild. She is a scientist and as such is comfortable with science and scientific thinking. Her discovery of tool use by chimpanzees caused Louis Leakey to remark: “We must now redefine man, redefine tool, or accept chimpanzees as human!” (Goodall 1999, 67) Not an insignificant discovery. She studied at Newnham College, Cambridge and Darwin College, Cambridge and completed a PhD in ethology and she has been the recipient of numerous awards. Despite this, some scientists fault her because the research she conducted did not include the manipulation of variables. This is an outdated criticism and has been debunked many times by the scientific community. If the only real scientists were those who experimentally manipulated variables then Darwin and Einstein would not be counted as scientists. Jane Goodall changed the world because of her research while most of the scientists who attempt to defame her have accomplished little and have never been heard of outside their very limited field. Jane Goodall’s scientific credentials speak for themselves as does her research. I will discuss this further below.

Speaking of research continues.

Goodall has often partnered with animal rights groups to attack life-saving science.

I have long asked the animal model community to prove their claims that life-saving medical breakthroughs were dependent on animal models and they have refused every time. Claims are easy to make and claims that have been repeated for decades are even easier to sell to an unsuspecting society. Actually proving a claim like this one is possible if the claim is true, yet the animal model community has only offered more claims and more rhetoric when asked to provide evidence.

In March 2016, she supported a campaign by the Animal Justice Project to stop preclinical trials of a new malaria vaccine.

Preclinical trials have zero predictive value for what drug will do in humans. (Shanks and Greek 2009, Shanks, Greek, and Greek 2009, Greek and Rice 2012, Greek and Hansen 2013a, Greek and Hansen 2013b, Greek 2014)

In September 2016, Goodall joined Cruelty Free International (CFI) to co-author a letter attacking the use of animals in neuroscience research (to which a counter-letter, signed by 400 prominent experts in the field, was published).

This is an excellent example. Those with a vested interest in a field can be expected to defend that field regardless of the validity of those claims. Over the past decades, we have seen many examples of this: the asbestos and tobacco industries. For more on this see Michaels (2008), Oreskes and Conway (2011). So, 400 signatures is not the same as scientific evidence. Evidence is what separates science from religion, myth, and nonsense in general. Opinions and claims don’t carry much weight and opinions and claims from vested interest groups should carry none at all.

In February 2017, Goodall worked with For Life on Earth to call out Prof. Roger Lemon, a notable Professor of Neurophysiology, to criticize his comparative work with both humans and non-human primates.

I addressed Prof Lemon’s claims in an interview in 2016. (Jones 2016)

As detailed here, her most recent letter to the FDA, in partnership with The White Coat Waste (WCW) Project, a conservative-leaning animal rights organization devoted to the elimination of animal research, relies on the repeated use of opinion rather than empirical observations or rigorous study to arrive at sweeping – and dangerous – conclusions. 

Note the lack of support for this and previous claims made by Speaking of research. If one is writing an essay and is citing widely accepted science, for example the theory of evolution, there is no reason to provide references. On the other hand, if one is making contentious claims in a publication meant to prove a position, then one should either cite references of at least refer the reader to where support for those claims can be found. For example, Jane Goodall has referred readers and people in general to my books and articles many times. In this particular instance, Jane Goodall was writing a letter to the FDA and one does not usually include references in such a letter. That is why I mentioned her past referrals to my research. There is no need use references every single time you mention a controversial issue irrespective of the setting. References should be used whenever you are attempting to prove a position but a letter is not usually the forum for this. Speaking of research and animal modelers in general have had numerous opportunities to prove their claims and have refused. Yet they are criticizing Jane Goodall for not using references in a letter to the FDA. Their essay is not science it is propaganda.

The problems

We’ll tackle this letter in particular, though past letters signed by Goodall and other notable figures like David Attenborough, are similarly flawed and should be similarly scrutinized.

Another claim without evidence and as such is an example of fallacious reasoning, in this case, as no references are provided, it is an example of poisoning the well.

No relevant credentials or expertise:

This one bears repeating. Although this should be obvious, to many it is not. Though she possesses a PhD and is described as an expert on chimpanzees, Goodall’s “expertise” ends there. She does not possess an advanced degree pertinent to the field of addiction research, and moreover she has never conducted research in a biomedical research facility.

This is again the lament of many scientists. “Only I really understand my research and anyone who criticizes it is uninformed and should be ignored.” In some cases, there is some truth to this position, for example when someone outside of science is criticizing the fundamentals of science or when an expert in one field is critical of some aspect of another field that he does not understand. But when the basis of the criticism is that the research is “cruel and unnecessary” then it does not necessarily take an expert in that specific area to make a determination as to whether it is valid criticism. Likewise, even a nonscientist can make that observation and be correct provided he has enough knowledge of the particulars of the science. For example, if surgeon A has an infection rate of 20% when the national average is around 1% anyone can call into question surgeon A’s competence. One does not need to have completed medical school and a residence in surgery to figure out that something might be amiss.

Thus, her first-hand knowledge of the methodology and oversight in these types of studies is questionable at best.

 A non-surgeon would have no firsthand knowledge of surgery either but he could raise questions about infection rates 20X the national average. Jane Goodall is not criticizing methodology she is criticizing placing nonhuman primates in a situation where they are likely to suffer along with the predictive value of such research. Neither of these criticisms is controversial except to the person who has a vested interest in the research. See Shanks and Greek (2009), Shanks, Greek, and Greek (2009), Greek and Hansen (2013b) for more on the predictive value of animal models.

Would you consult a cardiologist for questions about your car’s transmission?  Or, conversely, consult an auto mechanic about your open heart surgery?

No, but an auto mechanic is capable of pointing out that an infection 20X the national average is bad and anyone who has even passing familiarity with the ethology literature can figure out that nonhuman primates suffer in restraint chairs. 

In fact, Dr. Goodall appears to recognize this. For example, in her video targeting Prof. Roger Lemon, midway through the video Goodall notes: “I don’t have the scientific medical knowledge to take issue with Professor Lemon” before going on to demand he debate pseudoscientist, Dr. Ray Greek.

 As I stated above, Jane Goodall has done exactly what she should do. When one scientist is competent to point out obvious flaws in an area outside her own but cannot explain the flaws as well as someone in that specific field, she should defer the person who is more knowledgeable. This happens every day in medicine and science in general. A pediatrician might diagnose an appendicitis in a child but she will then refer the child to a surgeon. The referral does not mean she is incompetent. I can point out flaws in the physics of nonsense I hear from the media but if asked to give an interview on that nonsense I would refer the media to a physicist because she has more knowledge in physics than I do. This type of thing happens every day! 

The problem here is that the weight given to Goodall’s opinion is directly related to impressions of her expertise and credentials.

That is misleading at best. No one in science, with the exception of scientists who have a vested interest in something, asks society to accept a position based on their credential or expertise. Scientists ask society to accept facts about the material universe after they have studied the issue and come to conclusions. Science is about evidence. I maintain the position that the universe is about 13.8 billion years old because that is what the evidence indicates. If someone wants a superficial overview of that evidence I can give it to them but if they want to understand the physics in depth, then I refer them to a physicist. Scientists like Jane Goodall and myself as well as a vast majority of scientist without a vested interest in a position communicate science in more or less this manner. Only people without evidence ask society to accept positions based on credentials and claims. Jane Goodall and I want the chance to present the evidence for our position alongside the pro-animal model community and have experts judge the issue but have heretofore been denied that opportunity.

This issue of ethics of expertise is an important one. Goodall herself may not be directly claiming to be a neuroscientist, or an addiction researcher, but one of the reasons that her opinion may be thought valuable in these campaigns is because she is a scientist. As as (sic) scientist, it is worth considering whether Goodall should be upfront about her lack of expertise in the topic at hand. In fact, Goodall’s conclusion that the research is “unnecessary” and that “the results of smoking are well-known in humans” are opinions, rather than statements based in evidence and expert analysis.

 If your position has so little evidence to support it that you must resort to claiming that the results of smoking are NOT well-known in humans that should speak volumes about your credibility.

“I don’t have the scientific medical knowledge…” – Jane Goodall.

“I have been told that…”: This should immediately set off alarm bells to anyone reading Goodall’s letter. Forget what comes after that – who has told her what she describes?

 This is exactly what I would say if asked to comment on bogus physics being reported in the media. I can take the physics issue in question so far and can probably prove to the reasonable person why the physics in question is the way it is but I should not take the issue any further than that. I should refer the person to a physicist. Especially if the issue is contentious and difficult to communicate and I am being pressed to not only explain it but defend it against vested interest groups.

As we have noted in the past, it’s crucial to know the starting assumptions of those engaging in a conversation, and the assumptions must be spelled out.

Not really. It is crucial to know what the scientific evidence is, how much of it there is, and how do proponents going against the evidence explain their position. If a mass murder states that E=mc2, we would have to say he was right despite his character flaws. Science does not care about the human taking the position just about the evidence the human has.

In this case, it is no secret that Goodall has worked with The White Coat Waste (WCW) Project, a conservative-leaning animal rights organization devoted to the elimination of animal research (this starting position itself is dangerous, as described below). The WCW’s site itself states, “On the heels of WCW’s new lawsuit against the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)…Dr. Jane Goodall has joined WCW’s campaign to expose and end this wasteful project.” Put simply: Goodall appears to rely only on information provided to her by animal rights groups to make the case in her letter.

First, this is insulting to any scientist and especially one of Jane Goodall’s reputation. Second, again, what science values is evidence not who has the evidence. If the most horrible people in the universe discover a way to make better batteries for storing energy and they prove it by actually making the batteries, then we would have to acknowledge that they were right on the science of batteries. This is very basic critical thinking and again, I must wonder why anyone would violate these principles like Speaking of research has if they had evidence to support their position.

Factual inaccuracies:

Probably because she appears to rely on the distorted information from WCW, Goodall’s letter is full of multiple inaccurate statements. One example is when she writes, “Not only is it extremely cruel to restrain the monkeys.”  In reality, empirical evidence—that is data – show that restraint devices used in such studies do not cause severe stress to the animals, because they are slowly trained to be familiar with and calmly enter and remain in the restraint devices. Despite her scientific background—which should result in knowing that evidence and citations matter—Goodall cites no evidence for her claim that restraint is “extremely cruel.”

Again, note the lack of references for the above while criticizing lack of references on the part of Jane Goodall. In any event, I am sure humans could be trained to accept restraint but that does not mean they would like it. Their blood pressure might not increase and other physical signs might remain normal but that would have more to do with the learned futility of rage than any notion that they were not suffering. Perhaps Speaking of research would also like to explain why monkeys that undergo water deprivation are not suffering. Or maybe why the animals being vivisected in captivity are really happy and comfortable with the experience.

Sweeping assumptions:

At least two glaring assumptions stand out in Goodall’s brief letter.

1) Goodall writes, “To continue performing nicotine experiments on monkeys when the results of smoking are well-known in humans – whose smoking habits can still be studied directly – is shameful.” There are several problems with this statement. The first is that Goodall assumes that the monkey studies examining the neurobiology and physiology of nicotine addiction is the same thing as studying smoking habits in humans.

They have a point but it’s not the one they think it is. Goodall knows these two research projects are not the same and hence opposes the monkey-based research based on science. Learning what perturbation A does to complex system MON means little in terms of what it does to complex system HUM. Unless animal models have predictive value for humans this research is of a comparative nature only. If one wants to lean about the neurobiology and physiology of nicotine addiction in humans, then one must study humans.

Someone with expertise in this field should know these are false equivalencies. The only other plausible explanation is that she is choosing to ignore the fact that these two are not the same thing.

No. Speaking of research is committing the fallacy of false equivalence in presenting animal models as having predictive value.

The FDA describes on its webpage that nicotine research will inform about the toxicity of tobacco products as they continue to change by manufacturers, about how changes in tobacco product characteristics (e.g., aerosolized chemicals, often including nicotine, found in e-cigarettes) impact addiction, and about the changes in cell function/physiology after tobacco exposure.

If the FDA advocates for animal modeling in order to leant these things then the FDA is wrong. This is the same FDA that acknowledges the inadequacies of animal testing yet continues to require it.

These types of findings are not readily available from studying humans’ smoking habits.

We have already learned how to prevent all the diseases associated with smoking—don’t start. If we want to learn more, and that is reasonable, then we must conduct human-based research.

2) Near the end of her letter, Goodall writes, “I’m sure that most Americans would be horrified to learn that their tax dollars are paying for this abuse.” Again, Goodall makes major assumptions without citing any sources of data.

Goodall has data on her side. Surveys (Saad 2010, Funk and Raine 2015, Aldhous, Coghlan, and Copley 1999, Giles 2006) have revealed that people in general support animal-based research that has a good chance of leading to human-applicable treatments and cures but do not support it if it does not. This caveat rules out all animal-based research and testing.

We can just as confidently say that we’re sure most Americans would be glad to know their tax dollars are being used in highly-regulated research studies that address the health of current and future generations.

Animal modelers do confidently say things for which they have no support, that is the problem.

The dangers

Calls for de-funding life-saving research:

The most recent nicotine delivery methods, e-cigarettes, have not yet been well studied for their health effects, yet they represent a major public health concern. We do not yet know all the ways in which nicotine in e-cigarettes affects the brain. Studies such as those conducted by the FDA in animals, including monkeys, will teach us how these new delivery methods affect the brain and body, which will in turn lead to recommendations for regulation of these products and potential treatments for addiction.

No. 1) Studying animals in order to assess what a perturbation like e-cigarettes will do to humans is without scientific foundation. 2) Regardless of how bad e-cigarettes turn out to be, no one thinks they will be harmless so quitting or not starting is the best solution. Again, if we want more knowledge about e-cigarettes we must perform human-based research.

Despite these life-saving benefits,

Circular. Speaking of research has not proven that animal models can do what they claim. They are assuming their conclusion. 

Goodall and WCW call for an end to this line of research in their letter. This explicit threat should ring alarm bells for any citizen concerned about public health.

Appeal to fear.

But this is not the first time animal research opponents have called for an end to beneficial research.

Again, circular. 

Just a week ago, the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Dr. David Shulkin, had to make a plea to the United States Senate to not end life-saving canine research after a campaign by – you guessed it – WCW called for an end to this line of work. Think about that. The VA Secretary had to lobby the U.S. Senate to save a life-saving research program for veterans.

Threats to the advancement of scientific knowledge:

As if threats to life-saving research weren’t enough,

Circular and appeal to fear.

animal rights campaigns that rely on “experts” like Goodall are also threatening to end – or have already ended – scientific programs geared toward broadening and enhancing society’s basic knowledge of the way the world works, from the toxic effects of vapors in e-cigarettes to the safety of new vaccines to the communication between neurons to mechanisms of stress resilience to…the list goes on. This type of basic knowledge is crucial before life-saving treatments can be developed. This implicit threat should ring alarm bells for any citizen, period.

Circular and appeal to fear. Also, I really fail to see how attempting to make a villain out of Jane Goodall is going to help animal modelers. What next? Villainize puppies and laud cowards?

I have called for, and the UK-based organization For Life On Earth (FLOE) is attempting to organize, a peer-reviewed debate to finally allow the scientific community to judge the merits, or lack thereof, of animal modeling. This debate would allow each side to present support for their position in written form so that expert scientists from all relevant disciplines could judge the position in terms of their areas of expertise. For more see a video lecture I gave and my interview with Jones (2016). Animal modelers are rejecting this debate as it would expose their practice to scrutiny from experts who would not be intimidated by appeals to fear and other forms of fallacious reasoning and who would not be fooled by claims without scientific foundation. Jane Goodall has endorsed this debate and I hope FLOE and other organizations will continue to campaign for it. When one side of a contentious issue is asking for a peer-reviewed debate judged by experts and the other refuses, that should inform society about what is really going on.


For more on the science of animal modeling go to  and check out the resources there.



Aldhous, Peter, Andy Coghlan, and Jon Copley. 1999. "Let the people speak."  New Scientist (2187).

Funk, Cary, and Lee Raine. 2015. "Chapter 7: Opinion About the Use of Animals in Research." Pew Research Center, Last Modified July 1, 2015 Accessed Oct 21.

Giles, J. 2006. "Animal experiments under fire for poor design."  Nature 444 (7122):981.

Goodall, Jane. 1999. Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey. New York: Warner Books.

Greek, R. 2014. "The Ethical Implications for Humans in Light of the Poor Predictive Value of Animal Models."  International Journal of Clinical Medicine. (Special Issue on Medical Ethics.) 5 (16):966-1005. - .VCB_20tu3fN

Greek, Ray, and LA Hansen. 2013a. "The Strengths and Limits of Animal Models as Illustrated by the Discovery and Development of Antibacterials."  Biological Systems: Open Access 2 (2):109. doi: 10.4172/BSO.1000109 and-development-of-antibacterials-BSO.1000109.php?aid=14441

Greek, Ray, and Lawrence A Hansen. 2013b. "Questions regarding the predictive value of one evolved complex adaptive system for a second: exemplified by the SOD1 mouse "  Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology 113 (2):231-153.

Greek, Ray, and Mark J Rice. 2012. "Animal models and conserved processes."  Theoretical Biology and Medical Modelling 9 (40).

Jones, Pippa. 2016. "Interview with Dr Ray Greek." Talk Radio Europe, Last Modified Oct 9, 2016 Accessed Oct 20.

Michaels, David. 2008. Doubt is Their Product: How Industry's Assault on Science Threatens Your Health. New York: Oxford University Press.

Oreskes, Naomi, and Erik M. M. Conway. 2011. Merchants of Doubt. How a Handful of Scientists Obscrued the Truth on Issues From Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming. New York: Bloomsbury Press.

Saad, Lydia. 2010. "Four Moral Issues Sharply Divide Americans." Gallup Accessed September 10.

Shanks, N, and R Greek. 2009. Animal Models in Light of Evolution. Boca Raton: Brown Walker.

Shanks, N., R. Greek, and J. Greek. 2009. "Are animal models predictive for humans?"  Philos. Ethics Humanit Med. 4:2.